A spatial gradient in the interactions between American minks (Neovison vison) and muskrats (Ondatra zibethicus) occurs in the Hudson's Bay Company fur harvest returns of Canada. Evidence for strong dependence of minks on muskrats exists in northwestern Canada, whereas evidence for weaker interactions exists in central and eastern Canada. We tested the hypothesis that minks consume fewer muskrats and more alternative prey in some areas, using fur records from 56 Hudson's Bay posts. Both muskrats and small microtines were found to explain mink dynamics, with small microtines and other alternative prey gaining importance in the eastern portion of our study area. Mink fur returns exhibited a range of cycle lengths from 2.6 to 13 years encompassing typical small microtine periodicities of 3–5 years and typical muskrat periodicities of 8–13 years. A time lag of 0 years occurred between mink and muskrat harvest data frequently in the eastern portion of our study area, hypothesized to be a result of minks consuming alternative prey. To biologically verify small microtines as a potential prey source, we modeled mink and muskrat population dynamics assuming small microtines were an alternative prey by modifying the Turchin and Hanski (1997) model. Simulated mink and muskrat time series replicated observed periodicity and time-lag range, suggesting that minks can be generalist predators and consume alternative prey. Finally, we examined species richness and land cover as potential drivers of mink prey-switching, but were unable to find support for either hypothesis, suggesting that additional environmental- or competition-related interactions influence mink population dynamics.
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Vol. 94 • No. 5